Stocking the kitchen for quick meals

Is this a common dinner scenario? The kids just got home from their afters chool event, mom and dad arrived late from work, and the dog is barking at the door. Everyone is hungry. Will dinner be take-out fried chicken, burgers, or boxed macaroni and cheese? None of the above if the pantry holds a selection of nutritious foods to make meal preparation easy and satisfying.

Start with pantry items.

  • Whole grains including brown rice, barley, quinoa, and couscous come in handy. Choose quick-cooking varieties for convenience. Whole grain breads, pitas, and pastas are other grain ideas.
  • Canned versions of dried beans and lentils are good for salad additions and in roll-ups or casseroles.  Rinse first to clear out extra sodium.
  • Other canned items include low sodium soups and broths, fruit, tomato products, and veggies.
  • Canned meats, sardines, tuna, and salmon can be added to casseroles, grilled sandwiches, and salads.
  • Nuts and nut butters add protein and good fats to meals and snacks. Seeds and their oils along with olive and canola oils also contribute health fats.
  • Both sweet and white potatoes are quick to prepare in the microwave.
  • Seasonings are important for adding flavor. Garlic and onion powders (not salt), Italian herbs, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, wine vinegars, and low-sodium soy sauce are just a few ideas.
  • Fresh onions and garlic have their place, also, in the well-stocked kitchen.

Next consider the fridge.

  • Low or no-fat dairy items such as yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, and hard cheeses add protein and are great as toppings or casseroles additions.
  • Fresh greens including romaine, radicchio, endive, turnip tops and spinach make great salads and sides.
  • Baby carrots, celery, cucumbers, and sweet peppers can satisfy hungry kids as a snack or pre-meal treat.
  • Eggs can be made into an omelet with potatoes and other vegetables, or used as a base for a casserole, or just scrambled with chopped meat for a quick, nutritious and inexpensive meal. (And, eating one egg a day is fine for most folks.)

Don’t forget the freezer. Besides meats, other items are helpful to have on hand.

  • Frozen fruit and vegetables of all types, even diced onion and green peppers, are available.
  • Fish in individual servings are quick to prepare. Some need to be thawed during the day in the fridge. Choose those without breading to reduce calories and fat. No fish sticks, please.
  • Veggie burgers are a quick fix, too, and available in many flavors.  I like the Dr. Praegers brand.  (Disclosure: I have no connection to this company.)

In general, look for no-salt or low-salt varieties of canned goods and pick fruits canned in water or their own juice. Go for grains that list a whole grain as the first ingredient. Be aware of expiration dates on all food items, and place recently purchased items behind those already in the pantry. For more tips, visit Cooking Light and Today’s Dietitian.

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